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Devotional/Inspiration

• Vol. 1: Genesis–Job • Vol. 2: Psalms–Malachi • Vol. 3: Matthew–Mark • Vol. 4: Luke–Acts • Vol. 5: Romans–Revelation

Theological Seminary at Richmond. From 1992–1996, he served as the first Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Previously he pastored churches in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and New Jersey. Cecil is a graduate of Baylor University and is the recipient of the Baylor Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award for 1992. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (B.D., Th.D.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Master of Theology). He has written extensively, publishing numerous articles and two books: A Kingdom of Surprises: Parables in Luke’s Gospel and Modern Myths (sermons preached at First Baptist Church, Asheville, North Carolina). He continues to write Sunday school literature and other Christian educational resources for Baptists. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Cecil enjoys gardening and travel. He and his wife, Dorothy, are parents of an adult daughter.

FORMATIONS SERIES

PSALMS – MALACHI

CECIL SHERMAN has most recently served as visiting professor of pastoral ministries at the Baptist

Formations Commentary

AVAILABLE VOLUMES:

SHERMAN

O

n most any Sunday, in thousands of Bible study classes across America, one common question is asked in the midst of discussing that day’s session: “What does Cecil Sherman say about this passage?” Cecil Sherman has served as the primary commentary writer for the Smyth & Helwys Formations series of adult Bible study for nearly fifteen years. Across these years, he has offered insight through nearly 700 sessions across 45 issues of the commentary and addressed an extensive amount of Scripture. His work with Formations has made him a fixture in many Sunday school classes. At long last, and after much request, many of these commentaries are being made available once again. These five volumes that make up the Cecil Sherman Formations Commentary collect the uncommon wisdom, insight, and wit that Cecil’s readers have come to treasure week after week through the years.




Hearing Truth Is More Important Than Liking What You Hear Ecclesiastes 7:5; Isaiah 30:8-11 ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AUGUST 27, 2006

Introduction There are two texts this week. The single verse from Ecclesiastes is a generic gem of wisdom. The Isaiah text illustrates what the Preacher of Ecclesiastes was saying. I will build the lesson around Isaiah, but remember that the Isaiah incident illustrates the proverb in Ecclesiastes. In 705 BC in a minor military engagement, Sargon II, king of Assyria, was killed. It was Sargon who finished off the northern kingdom by his conquest of Samaria in 722 BC. His death was interpreted as an opening in Jerusalem. The most powerful king in the region was removed. It seemed like a good time to break away from Assyria and form some kind of military alliance that would give Judah security against her muscular neighbor to the north. The decision to combine with Egypt against Assyria was the decision of the “wise men” at court. Isaiah and other prophets were dead set against it (see Isa 28:14-15). These people were playing for high stakes. One mistake and they would be swallowed up by Assyria. Isaiah had a different solution to Judah’s problem. He wanted the king and his advisors to do nothing, trust God, and wait. Making a “covenant with death” with Egypt would offend Assyria. Never was the adage “let sleeping dogs lie” more true. Judah needed to keep


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a low profile, be courteous in all her dealings with Assyria, do nothing to offend, and most of all trust God—not Egypt—for security. But Isaiah’s counsel was ignored. An embassy was sent to Egypt with expensive gifts to impress the Egyptians and to enlist their aid. But Isaiah held the Egyptian venture in contempt, declaring, “Egypt’s help is worthless and empty” (Isa 30:7a). Isaiah’s counsel was not taken well at court. It had been the pattern of Judah to seek the Lord’s guidance before any policy decision was made. The king had advisors, including prophets. But this time the Judean court did not listen to Isaiah, and they wanted to hear “no more about the Holy One of Israel” (30:11b). Built into these verses is a virtual recipe for ruin. If you want to ruin a business, a school, a government, or a church, do the following:

I. Close Your Mind. Of the people at court Isaiah said, “they are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the LORD” (30:9). The counselors at court had made up their minds. Most of the time, good comes from hearing both sides in a dispute. I worry about a leader who rids himself of everyone but “yes men.” No leader is right all the time, and confidence can easily become over-confidence. There is a type of personality that is always seeking certainty. Such people do not want an approximation; they want the correct answer. There is a place for these people. When building a bridge, there is little margin for error. When doing eye surgery, there has to be precision. But there are other fields where certainty is nearly impossible. Religion is one of those fields. That’s why Paul said, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face” (1 Cor 13:12). Paul had enormous confidence in his religious experience on the Damascus Road. He bet his life on it, but he knew we have a faith-based religion. I know preachers who have closed minds on certain points of theology. The way they see it is right and anyone who disagrees with them is wrong. It is nearly impossible to have a sensible conversation with that kind of mind: it is shut tight. Such people can be a pain in the lower back. Isaiah found them so.

II. Get Rid of Every Opinion but Your Own. “They are a rebellious people, faithless children, children who will not hear the instruction of the LORD” (30:9). Isaiah wanted a voice in discussion, but


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the king and his counselors had made up their minds and would not allow anyone with a contrary opinion to enter the debate. For them it was settled. Not often in politics is there an absolutely right way. Usually, wisdom comes from hearing several points of view, sifting them, and refining them. Out of the mix comes an answer everyone can live with. So our leaders usually are surrounded by strong people, and not all of them are of the same mind. This is good. Have you ever known a preacher who had no tolerance for a different point of view? I’m told there are such. University presidents have also been known to surround themselves with “yes men.” Clash with the leader and you look for another job—even if you are right. Some of our country’s presidents have had little tolerance for dissent in their cabinet. It was their way or the highway. Sadly, churches and denominations sometimes exhibit the same tendencies. When there is some distance between us and the issues at hand, it is easy to see the benefits of listening to a large and diverse group of advisors. When we bring all kinds of people to the table, we hear a variety of opinions. Since not everyone is of the same mind, their diversity can produce good decisions that befit a thriving church, institution, or enterprise. There is wisdom when good ideas collide and compete. The Spirit of God works in and through the various ideas.

III. Surround Yourself with Tame Preachers Who Say What You Want Them to Say. “For they are a rebellious people…who say to the seers, ‘Do not see’ and to the prophets, ‘Do not prophesy to us what is right; speak to us smooth things, prophesy illusions…’ ” (30:10). It was an eye-opener to me to learn that there were authorities or expert witnesses who could be bought to testify in a trial. Some are psychiatrists, others are criminologists, and others have expertise in other fields of study. Their opinions—opinions that could sway a jury—are for sale. Often, vested interests have a lot at stake in these trials. Such people make justice hard to come by. Could there be preachers who say what people want to hear? If you think about it, such is built into the system of churches that practice congregational form of church governance. Preachers are “called” by vote of a congregation. The candidate has to be pleasing to the majority or he or she will not get the job. So some preachers learn to package themselves so they will be attractive. It’s hard to get a prophet in this system. A preacher is


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thought successful when he or she makes no one unhappy and smiles a lot. Churches can get sick on that kind of leadership. Are the “smooth” preachers who deal in “illusions” aware of their flight from truth? I don’t know what they know. I do know they have a knack for smelling any possibility of offending, and they don’t go there. They may call themselves prophets, but they are pretenders. Isaiah watched the king and his court. They did not put preachers out of court. They just picked tame ones. They instructed their preachers: “Speak to us smooth things” (30:10b). Not all truth is “smooth.” One reason some thoughtful people have quit church is because the church deals too little in reality. There are too many “illusions.”

IV. Remove God from Your Deliberations. “Let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel” (30:11b). They silenced the prophet’s voice in their conversations. No longer was God’s name mentioned or God’s messenger welcome at the table. Granted, some who say they are messengers from God are mistaken, and some messengers from God proclaim God’s message in an abrasive way. But does it follow that you should systematically remove God from discussion in the nation’s business, in the education of a child, in the ordering of a great university, or in the management of your family? Mistakes have been made in trying to sort out the mind of God. But if we are balanced, we recognize that God has been present and active in a number of instances when hard decisions were faced, and right answers came forth. John Adams believed God was in the decision to declare independence from Great Britain in 1776. God was freely mentioned in discussions with Lincoln’s cabinet. Woodrow Wilson often used religious language when sorting out peace or war in World War I. Franklin D. Roosevelt freely spoke of divine help when guiding our nation through World War II. Were Isaiah writing this lesson, he would cite the way Israel had asked for God’s leadership in the choice of their kings and in the debates about war or peace. Even in fiscal policy Israel had leaned on God. But now, not by carelessness but by deliberate choice, Israel wanted God removed from policy-making. The decision was neither wise nor right.

Conclusion What came of Isaiah’s prophecy? Was he right? What came of Judah? Did its policy lead to security? These are reasonable questions. Isaiah was the one who said, “Go now, write it before them on a tablet…so that it may be for


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time to come as a witness forever” (30:8). These questions are beyond our text, but if I were teaching this lesson, I would want to know the answers. (1) Read the verses that immediately follow our text (30:12-14). Isaiah said God was going to make Israel “like a break in a high wall, bulging out, and about to collapse, whose crash comes suddenly, in an instant; its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel” (30:13b-14a). Judah’s policy of trusting Egypt and turning away from God would lead to national ruin. Judah would go under. But if they would trust in God, they would live. (2) Babylon became the successor to Assyria as the most powerful nation in the region. In 587–586 BC, the Babylonians came down on Judah and destroyed it. Jerusalem became a heap of ashes, the temple of Solomon was torn down, and David’s city was trashed. About a third of the people were killed; others scattered. Some of the most able were taken captive to Babylon. When Judah needed the Egyptians, they were nowhere to be found. Egypt was useless—just as Isaiah had said. (3) There was no restoration of the ten northern tribes that comprised Israel. They simply disappeared after Assyria ran over them. For Judah, however, there was a different fate. They returned from Babylon to rebuild Jerusalem and its temple. God worked through what was left of Judah. What Isaiah predicted came to pass. If he was right about those people, we would do well to connect their situation to ours. We can learn from them; we don’t have to imitate their mistakes.


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Devotional/Inspiration

• Vol. 1: Genesis–Job • Vol. 2: Psalms–Malachi • Vol. 3: Matthew–Mark • Vol. 4: Luke–Acts • Vol. 5: Romans–Revelation

Theological Seminary at Richmond. From 1992–1996, he served as the first Coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Previously he pastored churches in Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and New Jersey. Cecil is a graduate of Baylor University and is the recipient of the Baylor Alumni Association Distinguished Alumni Award for 1992. He graduated from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (B.D., Th.D.) and Princeton Theological Seminary (Master of Theology). He has written extensively, publishing numerous articles and two books: A Kingdom of Surprises: Parables in Luke’s Gospel and Modern Myths (sermons preached at First Baptist Church, Asheville, North Carolina). He continues to write Sunday school literature and other Christian educational resources for Baptists. A native of Fort Worth, Texas, Cecil enjoys gardening and travel. He and his wife, Dorothy, are parents of an adult daughter.

FORMATIONS SERIES

PSALMS – MALACHI

CECIL SHERMAN has most recently served as visiting professor of pastoral ministries at the Baptist

Formations Commentary

AVAILABLE VOLUMES:

SHERMAN

O

n most any Sunday, in thousands of Bible study classes across America, one common question is asked in the midst of discussing that day’s session: “What does Cecil Sherman say about this passage?” Cecil Sherman has served as the primary commentary writer for the Smyth & Helwys Formations series of adult Bible study for nearly fifteen years. Across these years, he has offered insight through nearly 700 sessions across 45 issues of the commentary and addressed an extensive amount of Scripture. His work with Formations has made him a fixture in many Sunday school classes. At long last, and after much request, many of these commentaries are being made available once again. These five volumes that make up the Cecil Sherman Formations Commentary collect the uncommon wisdom, insight, and wit that Cecil’s readers have come to treasure week after week through the years.


Sherman Commentary